Archive for October, 2010

China rocks on

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of pundits talking about America’s cultural imperialism. In some cases this is seen as good, in some bad. A lot of people lament the disappearance of traditions and traditional pasttimes, clothing and food in favor of cigarettes, jeans and McDonalds in third world countries.

It IS sad to see the old things disappear entirely. But at the same time it’s great to see the ideas behind democracy and the rule of law gaining currency around the world in lockstep with our TV shows.

And then we have China. Through sheer numbers and political cussedness they’ve managed to maintain a measure of cultural independence not seen in many other countries that were, until so very recently, incredibly poor.

I’m kind of stoked about it to tell you the truth. Any country that throws parties like that one is focusing on things other than the United States, negative or otherwise. They’ve got their own concerns and interests and artistic vision.

Frankly, I’m kind of sick of a lot of the pap that we’re turning out as a culture nowadays and of being the only country that matters on the world stage.

Artistically, new blood is exciting and some of it is going to come from China. Politically and economically, well…I for one would like to be among the first to express my admiration for our new occidental masters…

Elizabeth Moon

Elizabeth Moon

I know Mrs. Moon. Not particularly well. We’ve sat across from each other at dinners, talked while we walked around a con, and so forth. She’s a very nice lady. We differ on many political issues.

She wrote a blog post this year about the proposed mosque at ground zero. I thought it was well written, thoughtful, and I largely agreed with it.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Elizabeth Moon was disinvited as Guest Of Honor from WisCon because of the contents of that post. She is being described as a bigot and a racist. In a shallow search of the internet the negative response to her post was vociferous and ill-informed. By that I mean that the vigor of those decrying her words seemed inversely proportional to how well they understood what she’d actually said in the post itself.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. For decades now ideologues have been preying on individuals who can’t be troubled to fully understand any given issue. If the soundbite doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, like a kindly revolutionary, well, you must be against that. If the soundbite doesn’t resonate with your own fears, give you a sense of belonging to the in-group, well, you must be against that. Carry on, wave your placard, dump your trash on the ground for the workers to pick up.

Mrs. Moon’s post was largely a call to active citizenship, to responsibility, to personal accountability. A democratic republic cannot function properly if the citizens are worried only about themselves. The well-being of the group, the nation, the country, must figure largely into a good citizen’s responsibility equation. Mrs. Moon is well entitled to make that statement having served in the Marine Corps among a great many other things. Presumably she did at least a few good things that got her the Guest of Honor invitation to WisCon in the first place.

Part of being a good citizen here in the United States is a willingness to openly consider ideas that may be different from your own. Discuss them on their merits. Examine your own ideas in their light to see if, perhaps, you can learn something. It is the mark of intellectual cowardice and dishonesty to refuse to examine, refuse to discuss, refuse even to entertain, ideas that may be different from your own.

I’m looking at you WisCon.

OK, it’s seriously time

that I saw Nathan Fillion in something serious. Like a drama. Something more serious than Firefly.

Being a Loser

The BullyJust read an interesting article on bullying in the Christian Science Monitor (Thanks Stacy!). It talks about what does and doesn’t work when you’re the victim of bullying. Looks like good advice to me. Excellent advice even.

Two things jumped out at me. First, it links to another article with the following statement:

A decades’ long focus on self-esteem may have given some kids too much pride, making them more forceful with others. And psychologists suggest the focus on kids’ confidence may mean a subsequent lag in mediation and negotiation skills – knowledge that could defuse volatile situations.

The idea that too much pride makes kids more forceful with others and lacking in mediation skills is fascinating. I don’t think it’s true. Real, healthy pride or self-esteem does not lead a kid to bully others. It leads them to do what they think is right despite peer pressure, among many other positive things.

But we’re not talking about real, healthy pride or self-esteem. In the public school systems and many private ones were talking about false praise handed out to kids who haven’t earned it because educational group-think prescribes handfuls of it regardless of performance.   The problem is and has been for years that the subjects of that false praise, the kids, know perfectly well that it’s false. And the kids who earn the real praise can’t tell the difference between it and the stuff you’re handing to the moron at the end of the row.

The message that effusive unearned praise sends is not the intended one. Instead of telling the kids that they’re worth something, we’ve been telling kids they’re not worth anything except false praise. In a situation where they get praised no matter what they do, there is no way for them to earn real praise. All they get is a constant repitition of the refrain “Here have some false praise, you’re not worth the real stuff.” And when you hand the same crap to those who excel as you hand to those who don’t, where’s the incentive to even try? As far as the kids can tell, trying isn’t worth squat.

I haven’t done and can’t do a real study of the matter but I would not be at all surprised if bullying was a direct result of a desperate search for a way to get ahead, excel, stand above one’s peers. To WIN. There have always been bullies. When I was a kid, they were usually the poor bastards who had real problems at home or in their personal lives. They were trying to lift themselves by pushing others down. The problem we’re running into now is that the false praise we’ve been handing out for that decade mentioned above doesn’t make troubled kids feel better about themselves, it makes all the kids feel worse, because it’s a lie. So they look for self-esteem in the hall.

Don’t get me wrong. Kids who fail don’t need to be ridiculed. They need to be praised too. But it has to be real praise, and sometimes it’s hard to find a way to hand that out. It’s never impossible though.

And it never hurt anyone to be told, “You failed at this because you didn’t try hard enough. Study more, practice longer and you’ll succeed.” Being a loser at something isn’t the end of the world.

And now we come to the second thing that stands out. What happens to the kids who fight back against the bullies?

Seriously, what happens to them? When bullying gets physical, the appropriate response is physical. If a big bully is trying to hurt you, stabbing him with your pencil is perfectly appropriate. Heck, your buddy stabbing him with his pencil is appropriate. Yet, in our culture today, the kid defending himself or another kid in that manner would be kicked out and sued. That’s another underlying problem in our society. We protect bullies by denying the victims, their friends, and any civic-minded bystanders the ability to respond appropriately.

This story appalls me for several reasons. It’s about three kids who beat up another kid on a school bus, apparently because they thought he was gay.

The story mentions the victim being afraid to come forward. It says that some people think parents should get involved, asking their children, how was your day? It even mentions that the driver and ‘matron’ (whatever that means) are being questioned for not reporting the preliminary bullying that had, apparently, been going on for weeks. All well and good.

I think a better outcome to this incident would have been the driver and/or matron storming to the back of the bus as the three little bullies stomped kicked and punched, grabbed them by their collars and either sat them down at the front of the bus or simply tossed them off to fend for themselves. Then they should have tended to the victim and called the cops, names in hand.

Think about what would have happened to the driver and matron though, in the political climate we live in today. If the bullies resisted them, very likely, the adults would, very likely, have been castigated in the press for assaulting minors.

You know it’s true.

Michael ChiklisI first encountered Michael Chiklis in The Shield. The Shield is a very violent cop show with dark, anti-heroes for protagonists. It’s also one of the best cop shows I’ve ever seen with one of the best endings of all TV in my opinion.

I didn’t see Chiklis again, really, until No Ordinary Family came on. I was pulled into trying the show by the premise, as advertised on Hulu, of an average family developing super powers. I’ve watched three episodes now and, I think the writers are getting lazier.

They’ve made the same mistake one too many times in my book. Moving the plot along by making the characters do stupid things is just awful.

I realize now that it was really the combination of the super-power premise with Chiklis himself that led me to try it out. I kept imagining The Shield with super powers thrown in. But Chiklis does NOT play Macky with super powers. Which is too bad, because that would have been super cool.

Ooh, interesting

Scientifiction DOES predict the future.

Political Correctness

Have a song

This came up in my shuffle this morning. Made my commute to hear it again.

Evil Money People!So, a lot of brouhaha in the news recently about where money that American organizations spend on American political campaigns comes from, foreign money being bad.

I’m not all that worked up about the issue. I’m a little leery at the idea of foreign interests meddling in our elections. They should mind their own business. But at the same time, that kind of crap works a lot better in the systems they’re used to, thinly veiled or open dictatorships, or rule by the elite; and not so well in an actual functioning democratic republic. Which is probably why we’ve had so much success meddling in other peoples elections over the years.

But in the end, in our country, an election is about the candidates and their ideas. If people are voting for someone because they’ve seen them in more TV spots, the fault lies not with the people who paid for those TV spots but with the morons making their decisions that way.

Money can have a huge effect on an election but the only legitimate gripe is if a candidate’s ideas are never heard by the electorate  due to a lack of funds. In this, the information age, that’s less and less of a concern. A voter going to the polls while uninformed has only himself to blame today. Trying to shift that blame from the voter to the evil corporations or foreign investors who failed to inform him through TV is missing the point entirely and taking it as a given that the voters are mindless sheep.

The constitution was not written with mindless sheep in mind. Perhaps the voters ARE mindless sheep though. The fact remains that nobody forced them to be that way.

The fact that the candidate with the most money often wins is either a sad commentary on the ignorance of our citizens or a demonstration that those citizens voted with their pocketbooks before ever going to the polls. Since foreign interests can’t do the latter, their influence is limited entirely to those who are too stupid to think for themselves. Meh. We reap what we sow.

Bonus link